San Agustin is a small laid back town surrounded by stunning rolling countryside. We were overwhelmed by how beautiful the landscape was, verdant valleys alongside lush, colourful flowers and exotic fruits we had never heard of. Coffee plants, avocados, pineapples, sugar cane, and banana trees (I could go on) are all grown throughout the region. The town is famous for the archeological sites scattered around its countryside. Uncovered in the 50's the tombs consist of an entranceway with stone lintels and a guardian idol standing inside. The idols are crazy looking beasts half human half animal. Behind this entrance way there is a deep, sometimes 5 metres, sarcophagus lined with stone. Around 3000 years ago there was the first sign of people living in the region. Mystery still surrounds the civilisation and the purpose of these tombs. All I can say is that to move theses huge stones up the hill the intricacies of their stonework and the beautiful setting meant that they were very important people.
Our first day was spent horse riding for 4 hours through the spectacular scenery. We travelled through the colourful hillside alongside the Rio Magdalena which runs throughout all of Colombia, from the amazon basin to the northern coast of Barranquilla. Apart from taking in the breathtaking scenery we were taken to 4 archeological sites hidden in the countryside and our guide, Carlos, educated us on the meaning of the statues and their purpose of protecting the sacred land. Carlos also showed us his metal rod used for detecting where tombs were hidden underground. It appears that Carlos was also a grave robber! Carlos' nephew also came with us, Santiago is 6 years old and adorably cute. Each time we stopped he would find us organic fruits to try including mora which is similar to berries and the juiciest oranges we have ever tasted. We also saw 3 tiny hummingbird eggs nestled in a coffee plant.
That evening we met Carlos and his brother for a game of Colombian style pool. The game basically has no rules and it's a free for all to pot any balls. Not much strategy was involved so we compromised to play the pool we were used to for the second game. During the evening Carlos also invited us to his home the following day to eat with his family and try the countries delicacy called 'Cuy' or guinea pig as we know it. I will get onto that story a bit later on! After a few games of pool and beers we decided to leave. Carlos got quite defensive as we were leaving and asked us if we wanted to go to the graveyard to see his dead friend?! He was very drunk and not making much sense and starting to act a bit strange. As we were leaving the bar manager told us we were to pay for all of Carlos' and his brothers beers as well as our own. Feeling slightly awkward we paid and left and saw it as a tip for him being our guide for the day.
The second day we went on a jeep ride which took us to the outskirts of town venturing deeper into the countryside. The scenery was even more stunning. We were taken to see the rapid flowing Rio Magdalena then onto the tallest waterfall in Colombia and the third tallest in South America reaching 170 meters high. The highlight of the tour was the archiological site - Alto de Los Ídolos. The two hills inside the park are lined with tombs and statues. The site is also home to the tallest statue, an impressive 7m high. Another impressive statue was of 2 giant stone crocodiles which aren't native to the San Agustin region. It's fascinating to wonder how far this civilisation had travelled before residing in this particular spot. We were told the countryside was dotted with unexplored tombs hidden underground, meaning there are hundreds more tombs with hidden treasures. Nick got nominated by my brother to do the ice bucket challenge which he did at the top of the viewing point. The freezing water was more of a relief in the 32 degree heat and 100% humidity.
After our jeep tour we were dropped off at Carlos' house as agreed to try some traditional local food. We bought a bottle of rum for Carlos and some ice pops for the kids as a small gesture for welcoming us into their home. Little did we know that we weren't actually eating with the family, instead his mum had prepared a table full of food for just the 2 of us. It all got a bit awkward as we sat down in the dirtiest, most unhygienic kitchen I have ever seen. Chickens, cats and who knows what else were left to roam around the pots and pans as we politely attempted to eat the black avocados, rotten potatoes and burnt to a crisp guinea pig. We managed to taste the guinea pig which was very crispy without much meat and not at all very appetising. In a state of disgust and anxiousness we quickly stuffed my handbag with 6 potatoes and filled an empty carrier bag with brown salad, the avocados and some more potatoes. After about 15 minutes Carlos came into the kitchen to see how we were enjoying our meal. We smiled and nodded and thanked his mum for the food.
'That will be 50,000 pesos please', he said, 'guinea pig is very expensive'.
Our faces dropped, we couldn't believe he was asking for this much money and we definitely weren't given the impression we had to pay. Of course we gave a donation along with the gifts and apologised to Carlos for the misunderstanding. He got a bit shirty and gave his mum his own money which was 20,000 pesos. We were starting to realise that Carlos wasn't as nice as we first thought and had deliberately left out the paying his mum part. The situation started to feel uncomfortable so we thought it was time to leave! Carlos and his brother then tried to get us to stay so we could see their ceramics collection. We politely declined and got out of there. It was all harmless and an interesting experience but we did wonder what his agenda was. Was he just an over friendly simple man who wanted to practice his English? Or was he actually trying to con us out of money or rob us? Who knows but it's amusing to look back on and laugh at!
San Agustin is a 'muy bonito' town and was a fascinating first glimpse into the Colombian culture and it's beautiful landscape. Next stop is the white washed town of Popyan.